SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Legislature will gather for a special session to take up redistricting, starting Monday. The process, which decides who will represent Oregonians on the state and federal level, happens every 10 years.
On the federal level, Oregon is getting another representative in Congress because the state's population grew. It's the first time in 40 years that has happened. The new representative needs a district — and people — to represent. The task of drawing that new district allows for a change to other district boundaries as well.
KGW’s Pat Dooris uses an analogy to explain why the process matters to every Oregonian.
"It should matter to you, because if, for example, you love trees and right now you're grouped with a bunch of other voters who also love trees, and your representative loves trees, then you have a voice in Congress," Dooris explains.
"But what if, under the new map and new district boundaries, you are suddenly lumped in with a bunch of different voters and they love flowers more than trees? In fact, they don’t like trees at all. And they elect someone who loves flowers more than trees. Now your voice is ignored. See how that works?"
Under federal rules, each district in the state must have the same population, give or take one person. And that’s important not only to Oregonians, but also to the state's political parties. Because to the political parties, it's not just about how many people there are in a district, it's about how those people vote.
"Each side wants to protect what they have," Dooris explains, "and maybe erode the other side a bit."
In Oregon, that means Democrats want many of the districts connected to the highly Democratic-voting Portland area. Take a look at their proposed congressional map. It’s easy to see how many parts of the map touch the greater Portland area.
According to the website FiveThirtyEight, the Democrats' proposed map would create five mostly safe seats for them in Congress and one safe seat for Republicans, covering much of Eastern Oregon.
The Republican proposal for the districts shrinks the 1st and 3rd districts and keeps them in Washington and Multnomah counties, essentially bottling up all of those Democratic votes. It keeps the 2nd district roughly the same and safe for Republicans. But the other three districts would be highly competitive, and according to FiveThirtyEight, give Republicans a shot at winning those districts.
Lawmakers will also redraw maps for state legislative districts, and the same pressures and opportunities apply.
If the state’s lawmakers can’t agree on a new map, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, a Democrat, will take over the legislative map process and a panel of judges will take over the congressional maps.